June 13, 2017 11:24:08 PM
BATON ROUGE, La.
The finality of the moment wasn't lost on Brent Rooker.
If things go as expected, the Mississippi State baseball team's 14-4 loss to No. 4 national seed LSU early Monday morning was the last game Rooker played for the Bulldogs. After the game, Rooker was sitting next to seniors Josh Lovelady and Cody Brown, who didn't have the option of returning to college baseball.
Still, Rooker's thoughts were on the future of a program he gave four years of his life to and a man who coached him for eight months.
"(MSU coach Andy Cannizaro) is the best college baseball coach in the country, and that's a statement none of you should take lightly," he said.
Rooker believes Cannizaro will help MSU win its first national championship in baseball. The redshirt junior first baseman didn't get a chance to be part of history this season in part because injuries to the MSU pitching staff left the team without enough depth. Still, MSU rallied to win four games in two days and secure the Hattiesburg Regional championship. For that, it should be celebrated.
Instead of remembering the 2017 MSU baseball team for what it didn't have, fans should focus on the way the Bulldogs solved their problems. Spencer Price emerged as a reliable closer and, at one point, led the nation in saves. After an ankle injury hampered him, Riley Self showed he was capable, too, and earned recognition as a Freshman All-American.
Brown solved almost all of the Bulldogs' other issues.
When MSU needed someone to provide a little more pop in the lineup at third base, Brown moved to that position. When MSU had a left fielder struggling at the plate, Brown moved to that position. When MSU had a second baseman hurt, Brown moved to that position. He didn't miss a beat wherever he played. He finished his career by hitting a career-best .323, which was fourth on the team. He was second on the team with nine home runs and 42 RBIs.
The 2017 team should be remembered for the role it played in the program's future success. Lovelady's impact on the pitching staff, by all accounts, will be felt for the next few years.
By playing wherever he was needed, Brown freed up space for the next crop of hitters to show themselves. If he wasn't able to play third, for instance, the emergence of outfielders Elijah MacNamee and Hunter Vansau wouldn't have happened.
"Our season is over and it is certainly a sad day," Cannizaro said after losing Game 2 of the best-of-three Baton Rouge Super Regional, "but in terms of big picture of what this team accomplished this year, I can't speak highly enough about them."
That's why the season-ending loss also was a day of great promise. If Cannizaro can accomplish so much with an injury-depleted roster, what can he do with a fully-stocked lineup?
Brett Hudson is the MSU beat writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Brett_Hudson.
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